If you start a new business today, you stand a reasonably good chance of surviving for two years. But after two years, success rates drop. According to the Small Business Administration, only 44% of new businesses make it to their fourth year. But these numbers shouldn't discourage you if your business is also your passion.
Consider David Kinch. Kinch is the owner and chef behind the Los Gatos, Calif., restaurant Manresa, one of the top 50 restaurants in the world according to Restaurant Magazine. In a recent interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Kinch recalled how he started working in a New Orleans restaurant at the age of 15. "From the first day, I knew I loved it and I didn't ever want to leave it," Kinch was quoted as saying. One of Kinch's best friends in high school also had an obsession—all he would talk about was becoming a trumpet player. Kinch's friend was another teenager named Wynton Marsalis. While Kinch obsessed about food, Marsalis was obsessed with music.
If only every entrepreneur followed their passion. Far too often, I run across business owners, aspiring entrepreneurs, and even college students who, instead of following their hearts, follow the crowd and end up terribly disappointed. Why am I telling you all this in a column normally dedicated to helping business owners master communications? As a communication skills coach, I can show you techniques to improve your pitch or presentation, but I cannot teach the intangible quality that separates average business people from inspiring communicators—inspiring leaders are obsessed with what they do. What I can tell you is all the successful business stars are passionate about their product, service, company, or cause. Instead of doing what someone else told them they should do, they went with the feeling in their gut—and made a business out of the one thing that consumed their thoughts.
Unlocking Your Potential
How do you find your true passion? Bill Strickland, author of Make the Impossible Possible offers some clues, writing: "Passions are irresistible.… If you're paying attention to your life at all, the things you are passionate about won't leave you alone. They're the ideas, hopes, and possibilities your mind naturally gravitates to, the things you would focus your time and attention on for no other reason than that doing them feels right." Strickland believes that only by following your passion will you unlock your deepest potential. "I never saw a meaningful life that wasn't based on passion. And I never saw a life full of passion that wasn't, in some important way, extraordinary."
When you choose to open a business or franchise simply because your neighbor is doing well at it, you increase the likelihood of failure. When you enter a career because your brother-in-law made a lot of money in it last year, you increase the odds of living an unsatisfied life. And when you choose a college major solely to satisfy your parents, you raise the risk of becoming bored instead of energized by your classes.
Starting a business is fraught with hurdles and setbacks. But if you're following your inner voice—the thoughts that "won't leave you alone," to borrow from Strickland—failure is never final. I recently met an entrepreneur who had the satisfaction of seeing his idea picked up by Wal-Mart (WMT). What shoppers will not see is the struggle that went into getting his idea from an obsession into a product. At one point, this entrepreneur stayed in Bentonville, Ark.—2,000 miles from home—for 60 straight days to arrange a meeting with the giant retailer. His heart's calling wouldn't let him go home.
Remember to pay attention to what you love doing. James Dyson loved tinkering and inventing. One day he grew frustrated by a weak vacuum that seemed to lose suction. So he got to work. Five years later he created a vacuum that would one day turn into a $6 billion company. But he could have quit 5,126 times (BusinessWeek.com, 7/14/06). That's how many prototypes it took to build the first bagless vacuum cleaner. Major manufacturers rejected his technology because they made money on the bags. Dyson was anything but discouraged. He persisted, and today James Dyson is worth an estimated $2 billion. "Enjoy failure and learn from it," Dyson once said. "You can never learn from success."
Don't let your obsession die. Embrace it, revel in it, and use it to stand apart. Follow your heart and not the crowd.